Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae

"The crowd of us who gathered there was made up of all types. There were the long, ganging friars of sparerib proportions, the short fat ones, and the simple, run-of-the-mill physiques - the whole line-up constituting a somewhat formidable wall of brown as Brother Myles would work his way to hook number six, where his own mantle hung. No one quite understood why he had cut a big red number six from an old calendar to paste above his hook, for there was no mistaking Brother Myles's mantle. Its tiny size distinguished it from all the rest. For he was the smallest friar in the monastery, the smallest friar in the province. In fact, as he so often put it himself (and sadly), he was probably the smallest friar in the world.

But on Saturday night as he clothed himself in white, he would realize that fellow Carmelites on every continent were doing the same thing. And he would wonder how he had ever managed to get in on this Saturday night treat to our Lady, this token of love for God's mother and his own, the Salve Regina. While he stood in line wearing the color that was symbolic of his purity and holding a burning candle in his hand, Myles would think about Mary who was the patroness of his Order and the light of his life. He admitted to himself that someday as a priest he would not be able to save even one soul without the help of Mary; that as a man, he would not even be able to save his own soul without her.

When eight o'clock struck, the community would file out into the sanctuary - first the lay brothers, then the clerics, the priests, two acolytes, a brother with the holy water and finally, the esteemed Father Prior in a flowing silk cope. Lined up on both sides of the sanctuary, running straight down from the foot of the altar to the communion rail, a small army of personified devotion, the friars would join their voices to the first peals of the organ, Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae, 'Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.' Walled in by the rising heights of big Brother Berthold on his left and big Brother Hubert on his right, Brother Myles would be all but hidden from the eyes of men. But it did not faze him. He would simply thrust his candle a bit higher so that Mary would not overlook his presence and join with full heart into the solemn beauty of the chant. Myles did not know much about harmony or counterpoint, and his voice, like most of the others, was untrained in the finer points; but he would sing hist best and make his chant what it should always be, a prayer.

'Hail Holy Queen,' little Myles would pray, 'all that I live for and hope in, my Sweetness. Here I stand crying up to you in self-chosen banishment from the sighs, conscious of sorrow and tears, and burdened with my dose of the taints of original sin. Look down upon me, Mary, now as I live; but when this exile is over, bring me to heaven where I may see in all His glory your divine Son. Mother of meekness, Mother of pure love, Mother of sweetness, pray for me and for all these men here who are far better than I and perhaps more loved by you. Pray that they may become great saints and I, a little saint. For being the smallest friar in the world, I was made for little things, but whatever you make us, see to it that we are someday worthy of redemption.'

At the final notes of the chant, Father Prior, receiving the aspergill, would start around the sanctuary to flick the tony blobs of holy water upon the heads of his subjects. Brother Myles, leaning out from between his towering companions, would catch a drop and bless himself, then go into a deep bow with the rest of the community for a silent 'Our Father.' And while he prayed he could not help seeing the smallest pair of sandals in the world and an ingrown toenail that was forever making him realize the inescapable factor of little pains in life, that perfect relief would only come in heaven.

Then when the Salve was at an end, the brothers would come to the center of the altar, genuflect, two by two, and as they started into the sacristy, the low monotone of the De Profundis would rise to their lips. Brother Myles would say this prayer with all the reverent enthusiasm he could muster. After all, this psalm meant liberation or relief for the souls who languished in Purgatory. So he would say it for them just as he would want others to say it for him when he had hung his mantle on hook number six for the last time.

It was his gracious gift to all those men who had sung the Salve Regina on Saturday night for centuries back, Discalced Carmelites like himself. Time had borne them into another world and they had left a vacant place in the white line-up. Some day Brother Myles would also leave a vacant place and nothing could ever change it. But as he passed through the door on Saturday nights, the Mother whom he had honored, probably felt that it would take a very big man indeed to fill up the little opening that Myles would leave when he went to collect his great reward."

-- Men in Sandals by Fr Richard of the Immaculate Conception (Madden), ocd

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